Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Opposition for opposition's sake?

The budget was an opportunity, and one that could lead to a long-term poll lead.

Add to that a real PR disaster with the party funding debacle, and surely this is the time to start the big fightback that we just haven't managed yet.

Party funding, of course, is a mess, and, much like the arguments about representative democracy, I now really am sold on the idea of state funding for political parties - it's the best of a lot of very bad options. Huge donations, which undoubtedly come attached with huge policy influence, are obviously a very poor way for our politics to be run - and so is the Labour use of union funding, which takes money from unions which could be using it for more specific things their members need, and which often gives the appearance, at least, of union interference in policy. The Labour internal electoral system is also a complete mess, with some members having several votes, and changing that would be much easier when money is no longer involved.

The rich list who would lose out in their influence can, of course, continue to give money to political parties - through paying more tax, voluntarily. And as much as I accept that some people would resent their money going to political parties (and the huge complexity of the system involved) I think the potential increase in responsibility to the tax payer could allay some, if not all, of these added problems. Our current system is a mess, and makes our politics very messy.

But back to the point - our opposition. An opposition has to oppose, of course, and sometimes it might seem that policies are opposed just for the sake of doing so. There is a place for this kind of rigorous checking of government policy, and there is also the place for agreement on major policies which come cross party (equal marriage for example). However, Ed has today called Labour members to arms - and what a paltry offering he has given us (

First - tax. This makes sense but how are we going to block it? Labour won't, of course, say that they will reintroduce the 50p rate in 2015 - so what concrete measures can be taken? Fees and energy costs are of course important, but where is the evidence behind this - and how will it be done? And rail fares - surely the best way of doing this is removing the ludicrous system of private monopolies that we now have, rather than just capping fares? Train fares are already far too expensive, and it's a structural change that is needed, rather than just messing around at the edges.

And whilst some of these ideas are thinking relatively big - particularly the energy costs (though surely a better long-term strategy is to radically change the way we harness our energy, and provide incentive for the private sector to research and develop) - in reality this is a five point plan of small ideas, little in concrete, and pure opposition. If we want to persuade the majority that we're on their side, we're going to have to do better than that.

Labour needs to take this opportunity, still a few years away from the next election, and form a story for government. Only doing this will we become the government in waiting in May 2015 - and we're not making enough ground yet. These measures have to be part of this story - sure it's not time to make a manifesto yet, but let's form a set of ideas that sets out the priorities that Miliband et al continually say we should be setting out - the alternative to Cameron's Conservatism.

Small measures may work when we're in government, but we need to radically rethink our policy focus, and the dialogue we want to have with voters. We've heard that we are 'refounding Labour' - well where are the fruits of that labour, and what are the priorities that will guide our policies once we regain Number 10? We need to work them out, we need to get them out, and we need to win - not for our sake, but for the thousands of voters who share our values, but aren't convinced we stand for anything right now.

No comments:

Post a Comment